Two members of the famed “Crazy Canucks” will lead the Canadian team into the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
When the Canadian Olympic Committee named former downhill skier Steve Podborski as Head of Mission for 2014 on Friday, he joined former teammate Ken Read as men of influence over winter sport heading into Sochi.
When Podborski and Read were members of the national ski team in the 1980s, the Canadians were known on the World Cup circuit as the “Crazy Canucks” for their aggressive, sometimes dangerous, skiing style in pursuit of victory.
Read is head of winter sport for Own The Podium, which distributes federal government funding based on a sport’s Olympic medal potential.
OTP oversees the competitive aspects of an athlete’s life between Olympics, while the COC looks after their needs on the ground at the Games.
As Head of Mission, Podborski will be team leader and spokesperson for Canadian athletes at the Games, and will work with the COC in preparing them for the Olympic environment.
“What Ken is doing working with the various winter sports teams is certainly central,” Podborski said Friday. “If there’s anything we need to get from him, I have a great line of communication. We’ll get it done.”
Added Read: “It’s kind of fun we’re part of the team leading up to it and he’s going to be the finisher, the part of the team that’s going to make sure the athletes have every thing we need.”
Canada’s goal for the 2014 Winter Games is the same as it was for 2010 in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., which is to finish first in the overall medal count. Canada ended up third in 2010 with 26 medals, but 14 gold was a record for any country at a single Winter Games.
The announcement of Podborski’s appointment was made by COC president Marcel Aubut at the top of the sliding track at Canada Olympic Park. Podborski then rocketed down the track in a bobsled driven by Olympic champion Pierre Lueders.
Podborski says his first order of business is to appoint his assistant Head of Mission.
He competed in two Olympic Games and won a downhill bronze in 1980 at Lake Placid, N.Y. He was the first North American to win the overall World Cup downhill title in 1982.
The COC once chose administrators as Head of Mission, but has started selecting more former athletes in recent Olympics. Champion swimmer Mark Tewksbury is Canada’s Head of Mission for the Summer Games in London this year.
Podborski was a natural fit for 2014. The 54-year-old from Toronto served as an assistant chef to former speedskater Natalie Lambert at the 2010 Games.
“It’s an enormous responsibility to help our athletes succeed and to intervene when things go sideways and to ensure that what happens is the best it can be,” Podborski said. “I was in Whistler and I can’t begin to tell you all the things you have to do to make sure it just goes well.
“I’m really ready for this job and I’m going to try and get a lot of sleep before I go to Sochi.”
Olympic skeleton champion Jon Montgomery says he saw Podborski daily in Whistler.
“I was able to speak to him and benefit from his experience at past Games,” Montgomery said. “I know Steve Podborski paved the way for guys like me to not be bashful about setting lofty goals for one’s self and being proud to go and attack them.
“It’s guys like him and his fellow Crazy Canucks that set the stage for fellas like me.”
Read was Canada’s chef de mission in 1992 in Albertville, France. He believes his former teammate has what it takes to juggle the many demands place on team leader.
“He’s very focused, he’s a determined competitor, he knows the importance of leadership and he brings a really good sense of humour,” Read said.
Podborski lives in Vancouver and was executive director of international relations on the city’s successful bid committee for the 2010 Games. He also works for TELUS as national director of community sport.
While the chef de mission’s job may appear to be that of a glorified cheerleader, there is a lot more to it, including crisis management.
When figure skater Joannie Rochette’s mother died suddenly of a heart attack during the 2010 Games, Lambert provided both support for Rochette and updates to the media.
“It’s very, very demanding and you need around you a very good team advising you,” Aubut said. “But the decision-making of that position is huge and full of consequences. You need a person who has great judgement and very intelligent.
“It’s far from a figurehead. It’s a really, really high-profile and demanding job. When you look at the man we have chosen, Steve Podborski … the fit is just perfect. I’m so proud to see him leading the team at Sochi. We’re going to stay number one.”